Embattled Jeffco school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).
This year’s biggest election in Colorado is only open to voters residing in the Jefferson County R-1 School District, which includes Jefferson County and a small portion of the City and County of Broomfield. Voters in this district are deciding on a recall of three right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County Board of Education: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, in addition to two open seats previously held by progressive retiring board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper.
Please vote in our unscientific poll below. Remember as always that we’re not looking for your preference, we want you to tell us what you actually think will happen tomorrow when the polls close and votes are finally counted.
On KNUS 710-AM’s Weekend Wakeup with Chuck Bonniwell and July Hayden Saturday, embattled Jeffco School Board Chair Ken Witt continued his attack on Jeffco teachers and students, saying that students are essentially pawns, “brought into this kind of thing” to advance the agenda of teachers and unions.
Questioned by Hayden, Witt said:
Witt: It’s absolutely the case that passions run high in education. And it’s unfortunate when our educators get involved in the passion, and bring students into it, instead of keeping it outside and the dialogue outside the school grounds… The unfortunate fact is that as these kinds of dialogues happen about education, particularly the union, brings those who are actually delivering the education into the fray, if you will. Unfortunately, there is some spillover into the classrooms. And of course it’s never appropriate for our students to be brought into this kind of a thing.
Bonniwell: Well, the children are pawns…
Witt: Yeah. It is unfortunate.
The accusation that students and others in Jeffco are pawns of the teachers’ unions, or somehow brought into the debate agains their will, is demonstrably false, as everyone knows after seeing the spontaneous protests against Witt, Williams, and Newkirk’s policies.
Why Witt keeps saying it, particuarly as he’s fighting to save his seat on the Jeffco Board is beyond me, because it damages him. It insults the intelligence of the students and community.
Listen to the entire interview below, where he discusses this and other issues in more detail, even citing a instance when he says his kid was bullied:
If you still have not returned your mail ballot for the 2015 election, you should head to a ballot drop-off site. Remember: Ballots must be received by the County Clerk no later than 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballots that are postmarked before Nov. 3 but received after 7:00 will not be counted.
We took note a couple of weeks ago when an often-quoted “independent” Colorado political pundit, former SE2 principal Eric Sondermann, had what can be best described as a sexist meltdown via Twitter during the Democratic presidential debate–deploring Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s “cackle” of a laugh, and suggesting that she and opponent Bernie Sanders “adjourn to a room upstairs” after Sanders came to Clinton’s defense.
Despite a wealth of eloquent opinionmakers available to ring for comment at any time in Colorado politics, some who might actually be plausibly considered “independent” for the purposes of fair-minded journalism, there’s a disturbing lazy tendency among local political reporters to rely heavily on two middle-aged white dudes whose opinions tend to be anything but “independent” (or, for that matter, “informed” or “useful”). We’re referring of course to the aforementioned Eric Sondermann and 9NEWS “analyst” Floyd Ciruli, who we affectionately call the “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of Colorado politics.”
The latest example of Ciruli’s special brand of “independent” skullduggery occurred on this weekend’s edition of Balance of Power. A show that often features some of the more insightful political reporting to be had on Denver TV, Sunday’s broadcast turned into an upsettingly slanted look at the Jefferson County school board recall. It didn’t help that host Brandon Rittiman and education reporter Nelson Garcia invoked the word “union” in just about every sentence, to the point of using the word as a substitute for actually explaining what they’re talking about. But Ciruli’s over-the-top union bashing dragged the conversation into downright silliness. In Ciruli’s view, neighborhood schools are “union-run schools,” and “fundamentally” the recall election is all about the evil teacher’s union’s desire to stop every good thing happening in education today.
Apparently it doesn’t matter a bit that the union and the school board signed a contract.
Considering the parents and other stakeholders that have no “union” affiliations whatsoever and are the faces of the recall campaign, and the fact that while some by no means all, or even a majority of funding for the recall campaign is from unions, yesterday’s Balance of Power was a bizarre capitulation to one side’s talking points. For all the respect we have for the reporters involved, it was not 9NEWS’ best work.
But for Floyd Ciruli, who may have run the Colorado Democratic Party back when they lost every election but today is a wholesale shill for very much un-democratic interests, it was par for the course.
If you live just about anywhere in suburban Jefferson County, it was hard to miss the latest miles-long visibility effort yesterday afternoon from supporters of the recall election underway against the right-wing majority on the Jefferson County school board. For the third time since the new board majority was elected, a massive “Boots on the Boulevard” protest lined the county’s busiest surface street, Wadsworth Boulevard, with thousands of students, parents, and teachers–this time armed with a specific message (recall) and a “Clean Slate” of replacement candidates whose names were on every corner.
Surprisingly, there has been no press coverage of yesterday’s demonstration that we can find in any local outlet. That’s not easy to explain, but given the enormous numbers of Jeffco voters who saw these demonstrators along Wadsworth yesterday…maybe it doesn’t matter if the media decides to ignore them. In lieu of responsible press coverage, we’ve assembled some photos and video of yesterday’s event for posterity from social media:
UPDATE: Via Support Jeffco Kids–in response to today’s video from Julie Williams, a Colorado Open Records Act request was filed seeking more information about this alleged incident of her son, a special needs student at Standley Lake High School, being made to participate in a protest against his mother. In response, Jefferson County Schools confirmed that the alleged incident was reported by Williams to have occurred in September of 2014–many months before the recall campaign ever began.
And then they confirmed something else–there’s no evidence it ever happened. From the investigation report obtained in today’s CORA request:
On September 24th, 2014, I received an email from Dan McMinimee that attorney Brad Miller was asked to reach out to me by Board Member Juie Williams. Ms. Williams had informed Mr. Miller that her son, a special needs student was used as a “prop” to carry a protest sign during a parade at Standley Lake High School.
I spoke to Mr. Miller who provided a date of September 8th, 2014 as the date the incident occurred on. I assigned the video surveillance review to Manager of Security Operations Bill Kitamura and then contacted SLHS Principal Jeff Pierson and discussed the allegations. Principal Pierson was adamant that neither a parade nor protect occurred at or in the school. [Pols emphasis]
Bill Kitamura and an emergency dispatcher together reviewed 30 hours of video from 15 cameras for the September 8th, the date that was provided to us. Nothing was found to indicate a parade or protest during this time period.
Here’s the full letter. According to investigators, Williams then suggested other days the incident could have occurred. In response to those suggestions, school security officials reviewed a total of 240 hours of video, and were “unable to substantiate that such an event had occurred.” The investigation was then closed.
And with that, Williams’ exploitation of her disabled son in this emotionally manipulative video becomes a deeply troubling thing. Original post follows.
This morning, the right-wing Independence Institute released a new video spot featuring embattled Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams. In today’s video, Williams makes a tearful accusation involving her son Randy, who is identified in the video as a “special needs student.”
In this video, Julie Williams describes an incident where her son allegedly marched in a parade that included signs denouncing his mother. Interspersed with black-and-white shots of young Randy looking sad, Williams claims with tears welling in her eyes that the incident “has scarred him forever.”
For starters, the video doesn’t explain anything about when or where this alleged incident took place. Nothing is explained about the circumstances by which Williams’ son would have joined any pro-recall parade, or who might have asked him to do so. There’s not even a specific claim that Williams’ son held a pro-recall sign, only that he saw one, and that this apparently hurt the boy’s feelings. There is of course every possibility that Williams’ son might see pro-recall signage from time to time, like just about anybody who lives in Jefferson County today.
A 7NEWS report from over a year ago, while the controversy over Williams’ proposal to “review” the district’s AP U.S. History curriculum using politically-stilted criteria, may contain a description of the same incident–with far less acrimony:
Williams says her 16-year-old autistic son attends Standley Lake High School, where protests have occurred. Teachers have also picketed outside the school in recent weeks.
“I believe they’re picketing and targeting that specific school because he’s there and I’m his mom,” said Williams.
Williams said her son told her he participated in a “parade.”
“Are they forcing him to participate?” asked Haythorn.
“I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t imagine they would force him,” said Williams. [Pols emphasis] “But, he doesn’t understand what this is. He thinks it’s a parade. He was excited.”
Between then and now, Williams’ story has apparently “evolved” into something much more coercive? Since the recall campaign didn’t even start until school was out this summer, the timeline seems hard to reconcile. But either way, we can tell you with some degree of confidence that there is no photo of Randy Williams holding a anti-Julie Williams sign being circulated by recall proponents. And that’s good, because it would be in very poor taste. There would be absolutely no political value in doing something like that.
All we have is this video of Randy looking on sadly while Julie Williams makes a bunch of allegations that nobody can prove, and appear to contradict what she said a year ago. In a video released by the Independence Institute, whose director Jon Caldara has repeatedly and crassly exploited tragedy in order to join political leverage. In 2013, Caldara claimed the deadly Front Range floods “forced” him to “move back” to Boulder from Colorado Springs, helping him outmaneuver charges of election fraud. Before then, Caldara actually claimed Obamacare would result in his “losing another child”–a reference to one of his children who had tragically died of cancer years before.
Folks, if anything like what Williams vaguely alleges occurred in this video can be proved to have actually occurred–meaning that someone purposefully exploited Williams’ special needs son into marching against his mother–we would immediately join in condemning it.
Not only is there no evidence of that, the only “exploitation” we can see is Randy being exploited in this video. That leaves us disgusted, though not in the way Julie Williams and Jon Caldara intended.
Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.
This off-year’s biggest race in Colorado by a considerable margin is the recall election underway against the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County school board. Gabrielle Porter at the Canyon Courierwrote an excellent story last week on the “outside” groups playing in this race on both sides. For those of us familiar with the interplay between candidates, independent message groups, and the money that makes it all come together, a lot of this story explains processes you know.
But there is something a bit odd, even for those of us who follow this game regularly:
On the incumbents’ side, a nonprofit group with conservative ties has funded television ads featuring [board member Julie] Williams that toe — but do not cross — lines that would require it to disclose finances…
Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause’s senior policy counsel and legal director, said that while he hadn’t seen the ad featuring Williams, political operatives frequently take advantage of vagueness in campaign finance law.
“When a candidate is appearing in a C-4 ad, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, people can decide whether it really is a campaign ad,” Spaulding said. “Voters can really easily suss out when something looks like a campaign ad and when the rules are being exploited.”
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said considering that Williams is not restricted by donation limits in this race, the nonprofit could have easily donated funds directly to her, and she could then have run a campaign ad with a call to action. [Pols emphasis]
“Games are being played. That’s what’s going on. … It’s not at all typical and sounds like somebody’s intentionally pushing the envelope to see how much they can get away with …,” Toro said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t have just given her the money or just run an ad that just says, ‘Vote for me’ … The only reason to do it that way is to avoid disclosure.”
Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute.
What’s particularly strange about these ads featuring Jeffco school board member Julie Williams from the right-wing Independence Institute, a nonprofit charity that does not disclose its donors, is that they don’t have to be run through a independent group at all. School board races in Colorado are not subject to the same strict contribution limits that most other candidates must abide by. Whoever paid for these ads could have simply written a check to Williams’ campaign to produce them. Heck, they could have done the whole production of the ad as an in-kind contribution to Williams’ campaign. What’s more, the ad could advocate much more directly if it came from Williams’ campaign. By running this ad through the Independence Institute, its content is significantly hobbled.
Williams said the creators of the ads never talked to her about how much they would cost, and said she didn’t know how many slots were purchased.
“I was just offered the opportunity to do the commercial …,” Williams said. “I think, as a candidate, you’re not supposed to know some of that.” [Pols emphasis]
In any normal circumstance, as a candidate who is actually appearing in the ad, you would want to know these things–wouldn’t you? Williams’ response to questions about the propriety of the ad she appears in sounds incredibly bad, but part of it simply reflects the strange rules that govern this school board recall election–versus virtually every other kind of election in Colorado that involves candidates for office. Whoever is paying for these ads in support of Williams is doing it this way on purpose, so you’ll never know who they are. Because there’s no other reason to do it.
And if the funders don’t want you to know who they are, there’s usually a reason for that too.
Jeffco School Board candidate Regan Benson may not live anywhere near the district.
There was an interesting story in the Columbine Courier on Wednesday that you definitely need to read — particularly if you are a Jefferson County Voter.
Republican Regan Benson is running for a seat on the Jefferson County SchoolBoard in District 5. If School Board President Ken Witt is forced out in the recall election, Benson could end up being his replacement in District 5. This could lead to even more drama in Jeffco School Board politics, because it appears likely that Benson actually lives about 150 miles away — in Akron, Colorado.
As Doug Bell reports for the Courier:
Benson has not directly responded to repeated questions about whether she lives in Jefferson County. She told Evergreen Newspapers in 2012 that her family had moved to Akron, a town in eastern Colorado, in part because of dissatisfaction with the Jeffco school district. Since declaring her candidacy, however, Benson has said only that she is still a registered Jeffco voter in District 5.
“I don’t believe it prudent to the issues of running for a local school board position to publish my address,” Benson said. [Pols emphasis]
Beth Clippinger, assistant to Jeffco Clerk Faye Griffin, said state statute requires school board candidates to be registered voters for 12 consecutive months before the election, and that Benson registered as a Jeffco voter in November 2013.
Regan Benson could have one hell of a commute if she is elected to the Jeffco School Board.
It may not be particularly relevant to publish Benson’s exact address(es), but it is certainly worth noting if she doesn’t live anywhere near Jefferson County, which appears likely. Benson apparently answered questions from the Columbine Courier via email — the story notes that she declined a telephone interview — and says that she decided to run for Jeffco School Board even though she opposes the recall effort.
While we can’t say for sure where Benson might rest her head at night, voter registration information is a matter of public record and fairly easy to check. Benson is a registered Jefferson County voter with an address in Morrison (Willow Springs), but her voter registration record also lists an address in Akron, Colorado — about 150 miles to the east. When there are two separate residences listed for a particular voter, it usually means that the second address is the destination for mail ballots.
Benson probably collects her mail ballot in Akron, and she refuses to say if she actually lives in Jefferson County, which is a weird thing to do if she really does live in Jeffco — what would be the point of dodging that question otherwise? And then there’s this:
Benson, who said she has never before run for office, said all three of her sons have in the past attended Jeffco schools, although her youngest son now attends school in another district.
The law doesn’t mandate that Benson actually live in Jefferson County so long as her voter registration is there, but why would you want to run for a school board position in an area that is 150 miles from your home? Jeffco has seen Republican candidates for school board in prior years who home-school their children, so it wouldn’t be new for someone to seek a Board spot with no obvious connection to the school district. But this — well, we’ve got to admit that we’ve never seen this before.
Remember, all ballots must be received by the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder by 7:00 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 3. It doesn’t matter if your mail ballot is postmarked before Nov. 3 — it must physically arrive in order to be counted.
Brought to our attention by the pro-recall blog Support Jeffco Kids–former Jefferson County GOP legislative candidate and avowed white supremacist Nate Marshall, who our readers will remember very well from his spectacular self-destruction in early 2014, is skulking around once again on social media causing embarrassment for his fellow Republicans.
This time, it’s embattled Jeffco Schools board member Julie Williams, who is currently facing a recall election–and who apparently never saw fit to remove Marshall from her Facebook friends after the whole white supremacy thing! In response to a post from Williams about the upcoming recall election, here’s what Marshall had to say:
Yikes! Nate isn’t the type to mince words as you know.
Unfortunately, after the incident earlier this year when Williams “accidentally” posted a link to a hate group’s protest against a district-sanctioned event about bullying of LGBT students, Williams has locked down her Facebook page to only allow her friends to see what’s posted there. As a result, we don’t know if Marshall’s comments were deleted, condemned, or even noticed by Williams at all.
But we do know Nate Marshall is her Facebook friend. After she got, you know, selective about her Facebook friends.
And that’s a data point voters may want to fully digest.
UPDATE #2: 7NEWS’ Deb Stanley with an absolutely blistering story–if you were wondering if this little time-waster of a stunt had pissed off the media as we suggested this morning, you can stop wondering.
The political posturing around the recall election for three JEFFCO Public Schools board members has soared to an absurd new level. [Pols emphasis]
On Thursday morning, embattled board president Ken Witt said he was making a “major announcement” in regards to the recall he was facing.
When the media arrived, Witt announced he was filing an ethics complaint against himself and handed out copies of what he said he was mailing to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission…
UPDATE: We think this clip speaks for everyone who endured today’s presser:
Meanwhile, Jeffco United for Action responds:
“Ken Witt’s political stunt this morning is exactly why thousands of parents and educators are seeking to recall him. We must get politics out of our schools and today, Ken Witt further confirmed he isn’t the person to move Jeffco Schools forward,” stated Lynea Hansen spokeswoman for Jeffco United for Action.
Parents have previously filed complaints about board actions with the IEC. The IEC about a year ago told us the school board is not inside their jurisdiction and neither are open meeting laws. Jurisdiction would lie with the District Court. Even if the court was to rule in our favor that the School Board Majority did hire their personal board attorney behind closed doors, the only outcome would be to require the Board to re-do their vote in the public.
“This recall is so much bigger than one issue. Thousands of parents collected double the required signatures because the community wants these harmful politics out of their schools,” continued Hansen.
Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt.
Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt mysteriously gave notice last night that he would make a “big announcement” this morning. Since the report aired on CBS4 Denver last night, Jefferson County politicos have been scratching their heads trying to figure out what Witt was about to announce. Would he resign from the school board? Something else equally dramatic, justifying a presser at the Denver West Sheraton and camera crews from all the local networks?
Ken Witt, board president of Jeffco Public Schools, announced at a news conference Thursday that he has file an ethic complaint against himself.
He has asked the Colorado Ethics Commission to investigate whether Witt was involved in breaking any open meetings laws.
Witt, a conservative member of the board, said the decision was in response to a recall effort seeking his ouster.
“I’m just calling their bluff,” Witt said Thursday…
That’s right, folks! Witt just self-inflicted this nigh-on unbelievable headline:
Now, the first problem here is that Witt filed his “complaint” with an entity that has no jurisdiction over school boards. Because it’s not a paid position, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commissionruled in 2009 that board members are excluded from the definition of “public officers” under Amendment 41. And if that’s not bad enough, the IEC isn’t even scheduled to meet again until after the election.
In short, this was about the most perfectly-engineered waste of the media’s time Ken Witt could have possibly come up with. If we had been a reporter suckered into showing up to this farce of a press conference, we would actually be very upset about the time and expense of dispatching busy camera crews and journalists to an event way out in the suburbs with absolutely zero news value.
The only thing we can add is that drawing attention to one of the principal allegations leveled by recall proponents against himself, especially in a way that makes him look like a uninformed clown while failing to refute anything regarding the allegation in question, is just laughably bad PR strategy. “Hey, look over here! They’re accusing me of something bad and instead of disproving it, I’m pulling this lame stunt!”
Whoever dispenses this kind of political advice needs to find a new career. Right now.
All five incumbents are running for re-election, with six challengers hoping to replace them for four-year terms in the single at-large and mayor positions and two-year terms in the District 1, 2 and 4 seats.
Read the rest of the Post story to see how urban renewal issues may end up being the top priority for Arvada voters.
UPDATE: A fresh report from the Colorado Independent’sMarianne Goodland has us wondering if major recall opponent group Americans For Prosperity is preparing for a loss in the Jefferson County school board recall elections?
Regardless of the outcome of the recall…
The politicians, school board candidates and conservative education reformers at an Americans for Prosperity Foundation education-reform strategy session Sunday repeated this mantra.
Two conservative Jefferson County Board of Education members whose jobs are on the line in the November recall, board Chair Ken Witt and Vice-Chair Julie Williams, heard this short-term-grim/long-term-hopeful message repeated again and again…
“We’ll be here on November 4 (the day after the election), regardless of what happens in the elections,” [Recall opponent Sheila] Atwell told the audience, which included Williams and Witt. “That’s what parents need to understand – this is a year-round effort. We always have to be vigilant.” [Pols emphasis]
Great long-term bravado, but for the three board members up for recall right now, maybe not the best message.
Or maybe it’s the only realistic message.
Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.
As reported by Support Jeffco Kids, relations between the conservative Jefferson County school board majority–presently facing a recall election–and the outgoing minority members have broken down to a degree that appears to be affecting the body’s basic responsibilities. Here’s outgoing minority member Jill Fellman describing the latest incident of red-on-blue bad faith:
There is an Agenda Setting Meeting with the Superintendent and his Cabinet a week or so before every board meeting. The purposes of these meetings are to determine how much time agenda items might take and to give appropriate direction to Cabinet members to ensure agenda items meet the needs of the Board.
According to practice, Mr. Newkirk and I alternate going to these meetings. Today was my day to attend the meeting – so, I drove to the Ed. Ctr. Mr. Witt arrived at the meeting with Mr. Newkirk and informed me (in the presence of several staff members) (1) I was not needed and (2) Mr. Newkirk would be attending the Agenda Setting Meetings until the election.
I’m a big girl, and I can deal with the lack of respect that I see every day from this Board majority. At the same time, our District deserves elected officials who treat each other and the public with respect, even when they disagree on policy…
Outgoing Jeffco school board member Jill Fellman.
Obviously, there’s tension on the Jeffco school board today as a recall election targeting the conservative majority rapidly approaches. But that’s hardly an excuse for those majority members to exclude the minority from an official meeting setting the agenda for school board meetings. The high drama that has regularly erupted at Jeffco board meetings in recent months seems most unlikely to abate if the minority is shut out of the planning for those meetings. In fact, that seems like a sure way to further aggrieve the standing-room-only crowds who turn out month after month.
Staring down the barrel of a recall, it should be obvious that you shouldn’t make things worse for yourself with avoidable bad press. There’s nothing we can think of to be gained by shutting Fellman out of these meetings that isn’t outweighed by the negative impression this action gives the voters about to decide your fate. This is the kind of nasty anecdote field campaigns depend on to win undecided votes.
So yes, it’s a big mistake, committed out of what appears to be pure spite.
Temperatures have been rising on the Jefferson County School Board ever since three right-wing members were elected to take over the Board majority in November 2013. As Colorado Pols readers are no doubt aware, these three Board members — Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — are now facing a November recall election for a variety of reasons that we won’t rehash here (check Jeffco Pols for a more in-depth background into the Jeffco School Board controversies).
If you aren’t familiar with the controversies and issues that led to the November recall election, there was a moment at Thursday evening’s Jeffco School Board Meeting that perfectly encapsulates why the entire Jefferson County community has been in an uproar over the actions of Witt, Newkirk, and Williams. You can see the video yourself below, which better conveys the emotion of the exchange as Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper is nearly driven to tears out of frustration and anger in response to an incredibly disrespectful display from Board President Ken Witt.
“I am fed up with the way we are running this Board.”
— Jeffco School Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper
The back-and-forth discussion in question followed the introduction of a resolution proposing changes to the District Accountability Committee (DAC) Both Dahlkemper and Board Member Jill Fellman voiced their concern that Witt was forcing a vote on an item that the Board had not yet discussed, which is explicitly against the Board’s own policies. The resolution in question was sent around to Board members on Thursday afternoon — mere hours before the meeting was called to order — so Dahlkemper and Fellman asked Witt to schedule the vote for the following week so that the item could be discussed first.
“I don’t know how we can have a conversation and vote on something I saw for the first time 4 hours ago,” said Fellman. “I’m not willing to do that.”
Jeffco School Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper
Dahlkemper also noted that a discussion was pertinent because a volunteer committee of parents, teachers, and administrators had been working for months on changes to the DAC. Here’s what happened next:
LESLEY DAHLKEMPER: “At the very least, give us the time to read this, digest it, contrast it with what we have also been given by a committee that has spent more than three months analyzing state law and having conversations about this, to determine whether this is a good resolution moving forward. All I’m asking is that we follow board policy, we ask questions about this if we have any tonight, and then we put it on the agenda for the next Board Meeting to approve it. That’s all. That’s all I’m asking.”
KEN WITT:[Sarcastically] Ms. Dahlkemper, this has been read to you twice, but we can continue to go over it until you feel like you understand all of the terms. [Pols emphasis]
LD: Mr. Witt, don’t you dare speak down to me or disrespect me.
KW: I’m not…
LD: Yes, you have. And I’m sorry you don’t understand the difference between those two things…because I am done with it. [VOICE CRACKS] I can’t believe this…because I do not want to do this. But I will tell you – the mistake that you are making right now is that we have a policy on the table about how we govern. You are throwing governance right out the window because you have some agenda that you feel so critical that we have to vote on tonight…that even a simple request that is to say, “Look, our policy says we review it, and then we vote on it.” And don’t you dare insinuate that I don’t understand this policy. And stop talking down to people on this board, and also people who come forward. Enough. [Pols emphasis]
Policy disagreements are to be expected in any group of elected officials, but it’s inexcusable for Witt to a) Ignore Board policy at his own whim, and b) Display such blatant disrespect to a fellow board member. Witt’s behavior isn’t the primary reason why he, Newkirk, and Williams are facing a recall — but it’s near the top of the list.
Right now, my neighbors in Jefferson County and I are working on recalling members of the Jefferson County school board who don’t believe in schools without hate. Each year, Jefferson County schools participate in a “Day of Silence” protest against bullying on campus. In response, board member Julie Williams posted a link to a protest against the Day of Silence, which referred to this important anti-bullying awareness event as “perverse indoctrination.”
That’s not who I want in charge of my son’s high school education.
It’s time for a school board in Jefferson County that truly cares about every student. Over the next few weeks the campaign to inform voters about the upcoming recall election is kicking into high gear. And we need your help to ensure success.
The eyes of the nation are on Jefferson County today, but for me, it’s personal. This recall is about my son’s education, and over 85,000 kids who attend Jeffco public schools with him. This is about my son’s good teachers in Jeffco who are being driven out by a board that doesn’t value their work. And it’s about making sure that far-right political ideology doesn’t dictate what’s taught in our classrooms.
Thanks for standing up when it matters most. Right now.
Even now, facing a recall election and massive criticism that again demonstrates the power of the grassroots movement opposing him, board member John Newkirk continues to whine about unions and outsiders–and their foul play–without coughing up evidence of such nefariousness.
On KNUS 710-AM Monday, Newkirk spewed out a list of grievances, vilifying unions and others, and, in the process, demeaning the community.
Take a look below. It’s hard to feel sorry for Newkirk when he says stuff like, “I’ve had numerous constituents call me up saying, you know, there’s folks in the schools that are really crossing the line, now.” Hmm.
He provides none of the specifics you’d hope to hear from a responsible person who makes such accusations. This leaves listeners, even ones who are sympathetic to Newkirk, with no choice to but to conclude that Newkirk is mean, desperate, or worse.
Here’s an exchange from KNUS Sept. 14:
HOST KRISTA KAFER: It’s been a difficult couple of years as a board member pushing for reform. Of course, they have a right to do the recall. That’s the law, and they’re doing it. Or trying it, I should say. But some of the things they’re doing to raise support for it, I have concerns, are not legal and certainly not ethical. What are you hearing?
NEWKIRK: Well, I think some of them have crossed the line. There are a lot of c4 groups, and I think by law, only 40% of c4 activity can be political. Which of course doesn’t have any place in our schools, and of course electioneering doesn’t – so I’ve had numerous constituents call me up saying, you know, there’s folks in the schools that are really crossing the line, now. You know, at back-to-school nights – they’ll have aggressive people there, some of them from out of the district, actually pursuing parents down the halls as they’re going to their conferences or back-to-school nights, pushing literature on them that they don’t want. I’ve also heard constituents complain that they’ve actually had people showing up at local high schools trying to register 16-or-17-year-olds to register to vote and even to the point where if they check that they’re conservative, then they’ll belittle them in certain ways. So, you know, that’s not part of our educational goals here, to embroil our children in partisan politics. I’ve also heard reports that teachers are wearing their pro-union signs—uh, t-shirts and buttons and even sticking signs up in their classrooms. So, no, that’s not appropriate.
Kafer didn’t ask what in the world Newkirk was talking about. Where’s the backup for these rumors and strange utterances, or fpr any specific info about these alleged activities. This leaves Newkirk sounding like a gossipy teenager with Kafer lapping it up.
Embattled Jeffco school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).
Circling back with events in Jefferson County following the validation last week of more the double the number of signatures required to place a recall of the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County school board on this November’s ballot–as the Colorado Independent’sMarianne Goodlandreports, conservative board members are asking supporters not to challenge the petition results:
Should a challenge occur, because of timing, the recall would go into an expensive special election. The school district will have to bear the costs of the recall election, whether it takes place in conjunction with the November 3 general election or as a special election. The cost to the district would be about $10,000 if the recall election happens on November 3, according to Jeffco United for Action. If it goes to a special election, the costs skyrocket to about $500,000.
Newkirk told The Colorado Independent he does not plan to challenge the signatures or petitions, despite saying they are filled with “erroneous, misleading, and outright deceptive language.”
…Williams earned special ire from recall supporters for proposing a change to the district’s Advanced Placement history curriculum last year. Williams suggested the curriculum should promote citizenship, patriotism and the benefits of the free enterprise system and discourage civil disorder. The proposal led to student and teacher walkouts district-wide, and it was later watered down.
She told The Independent Friday she also does not plan to challenge the signatures or petitions. “My plan is to focus on what is most important, the students of Jeffco,” and to continue the good work of the board, she said via email.
Witt said he has asked his supporters to not challenge the petitions, and he doesn’t plan to, either.
We speculated last week that it might in fact be better for the board members being recalled to have the election go forward with the regular November ballot as opposed to a separate election. We say “might” because we’ve heard credible opinions on both sides of this question–but we assume that before Julie Williams, John Newkirk, and Ken Witt decided against challenging the signatures, their handlers closely studied the matter. The hard numbers for ballot returns in the two different scenarios are much more important strategically than the message value of pinning responsibility for the added expense of a separate recall election on whichever side forced one, so this was an important consideration.
With that said, it was always the objective for recall organizers to hold the vote on the same day as the regular November election, so they’re obviously fine with no challenges.
Jeffco school board candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron MItchell.
Meanwhile, a press release late last week announced the slate of candidates running to replace Witt, Newkirk, and Williams in the event of a successful recall:
Three candidates are announcing their intentions to run as successor candidates for the three Jeffco School Board members facing recall this fall. In District 1, Brad Rupert is running for the seat currently held by Julie Williams. In District 2, Susan Harmon is running for the seat currently held by John Newkirk. In District 5, Ron Mitchell is running for the seat currently held by Ken Witt.
Williams, Newkirk, and Witt – collectively referred to as “WNW” – were elected in November 2013, making up the majority of the five-member board. Their initial steps of hiring their own board lawyer, pushing out the nationally-recognized superintendent, and making decisions behind closed doors drew ire from community members. The board attracted international attention in the fall of 2014 when they proposed a new committee to review and censor AP US History curriculum. In early July, a recall effort was launched by three Jeffco parents. On Tuesday, the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder declared that a sufficient number of valid signatures had been submitted and that a recall would be taking place on a date to be set after the expiration of a protest period.
The three successor candidates – Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell – were recruited by a group of parent leaders seeking to build a non-partisan team with diverse backgrounds who would be committed to working together to repair the damage done by WNW. All three have or had kids in Jeffco Public Schools. It is likely that additional successor candidates will emerge from left and right, but these three are hoping to earn the support of Jeffco voters who are less interested in politics and more interested in having a board who will listen, work together, and stay focused on expanding educational opportunities for Jeffco kids.
These three candidates join Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell, running to replace the two progressive minority members of the school board who opted not to run again. The best case scenario for recall organizers is a clean sweep of the entire Jeffco school board, which would be a victory with profound implications for the larger debate over public education policy in America.
Jefferson County students went back to school last week, and parents are on campus for open house and other events where activists on both sides are hoping to attract support. Jeffco Schools public relations, which now is reportedly managed by highly paid GOP-leaning PR consultant group Novitas Communications, is using official district communications like the “Chalk Talk” newsletter to promote a positive message that not coincidentally makes the actions of the board majority look good.
Unfortunately, the latest “Chalk Talk” newsletter was so poorly written that teachers and parents have spent the last few days cracking jokes about it:
Colorado will not pick a Republican candidate for president in its 2016 caucus after party leaders approved a little-noticed shift that is likely to diminish the swing state’s clout in the most open nomination contest in the modern era.
The GOP executive committee voted Friday to cancel the traditional presidential preference poll at the caucus after the national party changed its rules to require a state’s delegates to support the candidate that wins.
The move makes Colorado the only state so far to forfeit a role in the early nomination process, according to experts, but other states are still considering what to do.
“It takes Colorado completely off the map” in the nomination process, said Ryan Call, a former state GOP chairman.
A press release moments ago from Jeffco United confirms that the Jefferson County Clerk has validated petition signatures to force a recall of the conservative majority on the Jefferson County school board. For each of the three board members targeted, more than double the number of signatures were not just collected, but validated–which indicates a very high validity rate, and a clean petition drive.
Today, the Jeffco Clerk issued a statement of valid signatures to Jeffco United for Action of double the required 15,000 signatures per board member.
Ken Witt 33,942 valid signatures John Newkirk 34,188 valid signatures Julie Williams 33,900 valid signatures
“In an unprecedented move, we as a community collected more than double the number of valid signatures needed to recall school board members Witt, Newkirk and Williams in just over two weeks. The message is clear, the people of Jefferson County want to hold this Board Majority accountable and demand a recall vote on November 3rd,” started Tina Gurdikian, mother of two Jeffco students and one of the parents who pulled the recall petitions.
“We have done our job, and now it’s time to let the people vote on November 3rd whether the School Board Majority deserves to be recalled,” stated Michael Blanton, a father of two Jeffco students and parent who pulled the recall petitions.
Next, begins a 15-calendar day protest period. Any registered voter in the school district can file a protest. Once the protest period has ended on September 2nd, the Clerk will set the date for the election which the parents hope will be November 3rd to coincide with the existing coordinated election.
“Now is the time for our opponents to step up and ask their supporters to not protest the overwhelming intent of the Jeffco petition signers. Should they choose to play games, opponents to the recall will cost the school district over half a million dollars, dollars that could otherwise be going to benefit our students,” concluded Wendy McCord a mother of three Jeffco students and the third parent who pulled the recall petitions.
It remains to be seen whether a protest will be filed, but the huge margin over the minimum number of signatures needed to proceed with the recall all but guarantees any such challenge would be unsuccessful. That means the realistic best-case scenario would be to delay the recall election past November 3rd, not to prevent it. It’s an open question whether holding a separate election would benefit board members trying to survive the recall, or make it easier for the recall to succeed–we’ve heard arguments on both sides of this question.
Either way, a protest would result in a large additional expense for the district if the election isn’t held on November 3rd, and at this point recall opponents would take the blame if that were to occur. Given all of these variables, and the overall inevitability of a recall due to organizers smashing their petition goals, it’s possible that conservative supporters of the board majority will opt against a challenge.
That would be the smart play, because with this enormously successful petition drive, the Jeffco community and stakeholders in Jeffco’s public schools have expressed their desire clearly.
In a press release this morning, former Arvada city councillor and appointed Sen. Rachel Zenzinger announces she will run again for the ultra-swing SD-19 seat she lost in 2014 by a razor-thin margin to Republican Laura Waters Woods:
Rachel Zenzinger, a former teacher and former member of the Arvada City Council, today announced her candidacy for the Colorado State Senate.
The former State Senator pledged that her No. 1 focus when she regains the seat will be to build a stronger middle class. “While the economy may be stabilizing for some, many are being left behind,” she said. “True economic recovery means all hardworking Coloradans have opportunities for good jobs, with fair pay, and a chance to get ahead.”
A mother of two young girls, Zenzinger understands the effects of the rising costs of housing, food, and health care. She knows firsthand that families are still struggling, challenged by issues such as skyrocketing tuition and childcare rates, and the high cost of elder care.
“We need a Senator who will stand on the side of hardworking families, not bow to an extreme party fringe. My opponent voted to increase income taxes on our active duty military service men and women (HB 15-1181) and elevated lobbyists, special interests, and big business above middle class families (SB 15-078). Westminster, Arvada and the entire state deserve better.”
The loss of the highly competitive SD-19 seat in 2014 resulted in Republicans taking control of the Colorado Senate. In 2016, the situation is different, with revenge in SD-19 one of several paths for Democrats to retaking a Senate majority. With that said, SD-19’s narrow margin of victory for Woods, under 700 votes, makes a rematch with Zenzinger in a presidential election year very promising. We anticipate no primary challenger for Zenzinger, but we still haven’t heard if Republicans still nervous about Woods’ far-right-trending-looney political stands intend to mount another red-on-red challenge against her.
At this point, Democrats tell us they are happy, even relishing the chance to run against Woods, especially with Zenzinger as their candidate. Whatever happens, this will certainly be one of the marquee legislative races of 2016.
Novitas’ Michelle Balch Lyng (left), with former Jeffco comms director Lisa Pinto.
The Citizens For Responsible Education blog follows up on the contract between the conservative Jefferson County school board majority and Novitas Communications, a Republican-aligned public relations outfit headed by Michelle Balch Lyng, former vice-chair of the Denver Republican Party–a contract that appears to have run significantly over budget in its original five months:
An investigation into Jeffco schools PR expenses has revealed new information about the services and charges of Novitas Communications. The district signed a contract with Novitas back in February. The contract stated that services that weren’t to exceed $50,000 over a term of just under five months (02/9/15-6/30/15). This cap was apparently ignored. The district paid Novitas $67,082 over the course of the five-month contract and was 34% over budget…
The records also indicate that Novitas has taken over responsibilities regarding board correspondence in mid-July. These tasks are completed by Novitas employee Gabriella Mahan. According to the July invoice, her duties have included receiving and cataloging board correspondence as well as drafting responses. Novitas bills the district $60/hour for Ms. Mahan’s work. Novitas charged the district over $3,400 to handle board correspondence from July 14th to July 31st. In the past, responding to board correspondence was handled primarily by the Board of Education Secretary.
On average, the district has spent over $14,000/month with Novitas. Novitas employees provided approximately 40-50 hours of work per week to the district. Depending on who completes the work, the fee ranges from $50-$200 per hour. The district will spend over $168,000 per year if the district continues to retain the services of Novitas at its current pace.
You’ll recall that Novitas was brought in to “help” then-Jeffco communications director Lisa Pinto with district public relations. Pinto herself announced her resignation from her job with the district in late May, after a brief but highly controversial period of disastrous press for the board majority and revelations about the process by which this longtime local Republican operative had been hired over a number of apparently better-qualified applicants.
It had been suggested to us by knowledgeable sources that Pinto’s term as the district’s chief communications officer resulted in the departure of numerous veteran employees from that department. Novitas’ assumption of responsibility for routine correspondence between the public and the board, along with the hiring of another Novitas employee full-time by the district in addition to their contract, would seem to validate the contention that the board majority’s decisions have run the district’s PR office straight into the ground–to be replaced by a group of highly-paid GOP public relations workers. CRE reports that Novitas’ contract has been renewed for a two-month period for the same $50,000 as the prior five months, obviously in anticipation of a high workload during the upcoming recall election targeting the board majority that hired them.
Only problem? Blowing your press relations budget is itself very bad press, and the timing could hardly be worse.
Evan Young, valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy.
Recent controversial incidents between right-leaning administrators at Colorado public schools and students that we’ve covered in this space have not resolved themselves in favor of the rights of the students. Briefly revisiting a story we noted a few weeks ago, the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Twin Peaks Charter Academy who was prevented from mentioning in his valedictory address that he is gay, where an inquiry commissioned by the school found no wrongdoing on the part of the school’s principal:
The Longmont charter school has come under fire from advocates and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, for preventing valedictorian Evan Young, 18, from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to out himself as gay.
Additionally, Young and his father have alleged that the man who made that decision, since-departed school principal BJ Buchmann, also outed Young to his parents.
Attorney William Bethke, who was hired by the Twin Peaks board, wrote in his 24-page report that schools can legally “exercise editorial control” over graduation speeches as long as the school’s action is “reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Those concerns may include “discipline, courtesy and respect for authority.”
The investigator concedes that the now-ex principal of Twin Peaks Charter Academy was “distinctly uncomfortable” with the student in question coming out as gay during the speech, but claims a larger “communication breakdown” led to the censoring of his speech. We’ve noted previously the role of far-right attorney Barry Arrington with this school, and other anecdotes we’ve heard that suggest Twin Peaks Charter Academy may be a thiny-veiled religious school masquerading as “public” to obtain public funding. The board of the school sent a letter to parent in response to this investigation that blasts outsiders’ attempts “to push their own political agendas.”
But isn’t being “distinctly uncomfortable” with a gay valedictorian a pretty clear expression of a political agenda?
The second case concerns the investigation of an incident at a Jefferson County school board meeting last May, in which a minor student’s name was displayed on an overhead projector while board chairman Ken Witt attacked the student as “racist” and declared that he would not meet with any group that included said student. Parents and teachers in attendance cried foul and demanded an investigation to determine if laws or district policies were broken. We were forwarded the result:
The discussion on the matter lasted approximately two minutes and during the discussion a public, social media posting of the student was displayed for 25 seconds. From the time Mr. Witt directed Ms. Neal to project the image through the time it was displayed during the meeting, the conversation focused on getting student voices to Board meetings with a suggestion from Ms. Dahlkemper to consider an approach similar to Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education. No discussion or reference was made to the image of the student while the social media posting was displayed. Of the five Board members present, none of them called into question the comments or the appropriateness of the display of the student post during the meeting. Because the posting displayed was from a public social media site and not a school maintained record, FERPA and District Policy JRA/JRC were not violated as FERPA only protects the privacy of student education records.
The complaining parties allege that Mr. Witt’s behavior constituted harassment and/or bullying and therefore Mr. McMinimee and Mr. Hess had an affirmative duty to intervene and stop the harassment and/or bullying. Policy JBB, Harassment of Students, explicitly prohibits “harassment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.” The investigator concluded Mr. Witt did not violate this policy because there “is no indication that his attention to the issue was in any way related to a protected status of a student.”
In short, the investigation of this incident appears to validate the idea that board members in Jefferson County can say whatever they want to students as long as the students are not a member of a specifically protected class and official academic records aren’t being shared. By all accounts we’ve heard, the singling out of this minor student for baseless allegations of racism was a highly confrontational and inappropriate act by Witt. Critics of the board say the investigation’s scope was tightly controlled to avoid, among other things, the emotional distress Witt’s statements inflicted on the minor student.
In Longmont, the principal responsible for censoring the Twin Peaks Charter Academy valedictorian’s speech has since left the school. In Jefferson County, the alleged bullying of a minor student by Ken Witt has become part of a much longer list of grievances against the school board majority driving the recall election now underway. Without any other apparent remedy, the recall in Jefferson County may be the only check and balance left to protect students from a hostile, even abusive, school board.
In both cases, we think the highest priority of the adult officials involved–the kids–were tremendously disserved.
Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.
In today’s scripted political environment, you don’t often see one arm of an advocacy organization rip into, say, a school board member, when other arms of the same organization are fighting wildly for the survival of the same school board member.
But that’s what the appendages of the Independence Institute are doing.
On Colorado Public Television July 10, Independence Institute Research Director Dave Kopel criticized Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams.
Kopel said, Williams is “by far the least capable member of that group, and the one who has gotten the rest of the board into trouble with a lot of foolish, barely thought-out ideas she has expressed inappropriately.”
At the same time, down the figurative hall, the Executive Vice President of the libertarian/conservative outfit, Amy Oliver, has been slaving to save Williams, defending her and the jeffco board in a relentless string of tweets and sporadic media appearances. Oliver, who keeps any criticism she might have of Williams to herself, was the spokesperson for her organization’s website set up to battle alleged mean-girl tweets directed at the Jeffco board and staff.
(On Twitter, someone wondered whether Kopel was masquerading as a mean girl.)
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a sometimes schizo organization, and it’s actually refreshing. Plus, Kopel speaks for himself. But his criticism of Williams, in the midst of his organization’s agenda, is noteworthy, and may reflect the polarizing effect Williams, in particular, has had on her Jeffco school community.
One of the major grievances against the right-wing Jefferson County school board majority driving the recall election now underway was an abortive proposal last fall by board member Julie Williams to set up a board-appointed “review” of recently revised AP U.S. History curriculum. Readers will recall the specific language of Williams’ proposal, which touched off huge student protests in Jefferson County:
Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. [Pols emphasis] Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.
Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.
After the protests against Williams’ proposal became literally international news, the Jeffco board quietly shelved the idea, announcing through their contracted public relations staff a few months later that the proposal was dead. Politically, it was a huge disaster for the board and their Republican backers in Jefferson County, dramatically raising the profile of the conflict over the school district’s new direction since conservative board candidates rode opposition to a failed tax increase measure to victory in 2013. Today, the attempt to “censor” Jeffco’s AP History curriculum is perhaps the best-known reason among the public justifying the recall–frequently cited by petition signers as their reason for doing so without any prompting.
Today, however, right-wing defenders of the Jeffco school board majority are claiming “vindication” of Williams after the College Board released another round of revisions to AP U.S. History framework intended to mollify conservative critics. From Newsweek’slatest issue:
The new framework significantly pares down last year’s framework, simplifying and condensing the course’s Thematic Learning Objectives from 50 to 19, according to an official at the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams. In the process, a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism” has been added. Some names that were omitted from last year’s framework, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, have been added—a key sticking point for critics of the prior document, who objected to Founding Fathers being omitted and negative aspects in American history being more emphasized, they claimed, than positive periods. Ben Carson, a GOP presidential candidate, said the curriculum was so anti-American that students who complete it would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”
…In October, the College Board began accepting comment from teachers and the general public on the standards. In April, Trevor Packer, College Board’s head of AP, announced that revisions would be published in July based on the feedback.
Teachers Newsweek spoke with, who sat on a committee to draft the framework, stressed that the document was never meant to be a description of the totality of what an AP U.S. history teacher must teach, but rather a simplified outline that guides the course toward certain themes. [Pols emphasis] The impetus for the original revision, published last year, was to redirect the course away from rote memorization of facts and more toward “historical thinking skills,” according to Ted Dickson, a teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina…
“The amount of press it got was entirely ridiculous because I don’t think they understood what it was meant to be. It was a framework that meant to let teachers understand the limits of what would be tested. You add examples, you teach it how you want to teach it, just make sure you teach these important concepts,” Hastings said. But critics saw it as excluding, among other things, favorite Founding Fathers and historical events that contribute to America’s legacy, such as its role in winning World War I and World War II. In the new framework, America’s military achievements are given a greater emphasis than in the last document.
Bottom line: the changes made by the College Board to the AP U.S. History curriculum are not anything like the sweeping and highly politicized review of history Williams sought last year. Making a few changes to specifically invoke certain names and events–the “rote memorization of facts” noted above–do not come close to Williams’ test of a history curriculum that “promotes patriotism, the free enterprise system, and respect for authority,” while avoiding “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
Because Williams’ proposal did tremendous damage to the credibility of the Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority, it makes sense that they would loudly declare any concession on the matter as “vindication.” If anything, these small concessions only cast Williams’ over-the-top proposal for a sweeping and politically slanted review of U.S. History into harsher relief. If throwing empty bromides like “American exceptionalism” and the name Benjamin Franklin into the framework is really enough to placate Williams, her criticisms were baseless to begin with.